Salt River Devco, Ak-Chin Indian Community And Arizona’s Native American tribes are diversifying their holdings through added infrastructure, business parks and development partners
When it comes to large construction projects on Indian lands, casinos and the hospitality industry supporting them generally dominate the public’s consciousness on the subject.
Powerhouse revenue generators such as Talking Stick Casino and Resort, Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino and the plethora of other gaming-related projects completed in recent years support the notion.
But even those welcomed construction projects during an otherwise bleak period in the state’s commercial construction history should be viewed as the end of the boom period for casino projects, some observers say.
“A lot of tribes started in gaming and that’s consumed their focus,” says Vince Lujan, president of Salt River Devco, an entity of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Salt River Devco’s charge is to attract non-gaming related development to Indian community lands. “Now they want to diversify their holdings.”
Developing a game plan
If the build-out of casinos and their ancillary projects has indeed begun, as some suggest, Arizona tribes have already recognized the need to broaden their holdings. Several have launched into non-gaming development with little fanfare — but with the belief those projects will either keep generating revenue for the tribe and/or provide a higher quality of life for their members.
In many instances such projects are underway. The Ak-Chin Indian Community’s waste reclamation facility already is making life easier for tribal members. In other cases, tribes, such as the SRP-MIC, are aggressively adding tenants to their business park.
In addition to the spectacular Fields at Talking Stick spring training baseball facility that the SRP-MIC added to its holdings last year, it has also been ambitious in trying to grow its industrial park with tenants. Chaparral Business Center sits off Loop 101 in an area considered geographically prime because of its proximity to Scottsdale.
The 55-acre park is only partially developed, but Salt River Devco is working hard to change that.
“We want to help the community develop a general land use plan for the 101 corridor,” says Jeff Roberts, Salt River Devco’s asset manager.
That plan calls for medical, retail and light industrial and Salt River Devco is touting its build-to-suit plans to prospective tenants.
In the buildings currently completed, occupancy runs at about 90%, Roberts says. Fender Musical Instruments, William Lyon Homes, Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management and Insurance Co. are among the current tenants.
The tribe’s biggest commercial project currently underway is the $22M Scottsdale 101 Courtyard by Marriott on the NEC of Pima and Vista Drive, just south of McDowell Ave. When completed in January, it will feature 158 rooms, a 3,000 SF conference center and will be pursuing LEED certification.
Catering to business travelers and spring training guests, the hotel (Marriott’s first on tribal land) is just the kind of project that will boost the industrial park’s attractiveness in addition to supporting the casino and resort, Roberts says.
“What the 101 corridor has it lots of available land in a desirable locations,” he says. “We want to position ourselves to propose new development to users.”
Because tribes generally don’t have a property tax base to help generate revenue, they are always on the lookout about how to generate revenue through sales taxes or other types of taxes, Lujan says.
At Ak-Chin Indian Community in Pinal County, it is just wrapping up construction of a new water reclamation project and breaking ground on another surface water treatment plant.
The water reclamation facility is a $43M project that had been underway since September 2009. With 13 miles of new pipelines and pumping structures along with a 28,000 SF operations facility, the project has received several awards for its architects, Carollo Engineers, and general contractor, MGC Contractors.
In June, the tribe started construction on the surface water treatment plant. That $18M project being built by PCL Construction is expected to be completed in July 2012.
“In order to support future growth and expansion, we realized there was a need to upgrade our infrastructure,” says Jayne Long, Ak-Chin capital projects manager.
Other Ak-Chin projects include the recent completion of a white shell building in May at its 110-acre industrial park. They are also planning for a second building at the Santa Cruz Commerce Center. Current tenants include Hickman’s Eggs, M&S Machinery, Hit & Pitch and Crossfit Battlefit. The tribe also owns a golf course and regional airport. At both sites, they plan to make improvements.
And in July, it began construction on a 6,500 SF grocery store within the reservation. The Vekol Market will be completed in November, giving tribal members a true grocery store shopping experience.
“The Community has gotten bonding or bank financing on some of these projects,” Long says. “But this community was self sufficient before they had casino operations from its agricultural interests.”
Still, the tribe’s 16-year affiliation with Harrah’s has been a major impetus behind its ability to take on so many projects. It continues to build homes for its members and just completed a new fire station. It is currently in the design stage for a justice complex that will include a police station, detention facility and court. That 50,000 SF project could break ground in 1Q 2012.
It also plans to make improvements to the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, which it acquired last year, and the Phoenix Regional Airport, which it owns.
That’s in addition to the recently completed expansion project at Harrah’s Casino, which doubled its room capacity with the opneing of a five-story addition. The $20M project was financed by the tribe. Harrah’s manages all aspects of the gaming operation and the hotel.
Looking to the future
Still, the recession has hurt tribal development just as it has all development.
“The boom years are over,” says Dan Lewis, a Native American market sector leader in the Phoenix office for Leo A Daly, an international architectural, engineering, planning and interior design firm. “Now the focus is on maintaining casino competitiveness and meeting the needs of its members.”
Lewis’ firm just wrapped up design additions to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Casino Del Sol in Tucson. The project included the addition of a hotel, conference center, parking garage, laundry facility and warehouse to the existing 213,000 SF casino.
In Peridot, the $80.2M San Carlos Apache Healthcare Center is scheduled to open in 4Q 2013. The 184,000 SF facility will be a replacement hospital campus for the San Carlos Apache Tribe. It will consist of five buildings on a 50-acre site. The buildings include an ambulatory hospital, behavioral health building, dentistry building, public health building and EMS building.
At the Gila River Indian Community, an upscale premium outlet mall is the latest addition the tribe’s portfolio. The project is expected to break ground in 1Q 2012. It will eventually reach 360,000 SF and feature 90 designer name-brand outlets stores. Plans call for the mall to cover 45 acres.
“The conception for this came quite a few years ago,” says Alia Maisonet, director of communications and public affairs for the tribe. “Then the recession hit and slowed down plans.”
But the tribe recently received word from Simon Premium Outlets that it wanted to move forward. The mall will be next to Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino on land previously designated for economic development. The project is expected to generate at least $2.6M in sales taxes.